Published by Kensington on October 28, The Ripper’s Wife by Brandy Purdy is a gripping addition to the vast literature devoted to one of the most gruesome crimes of our times. If you are in the mood for a bone-chilling Victorian tale written with a clever twist of imagination and based on the latest enlightening revelations about the identity of the Whitechapel murderer, The Ripper’s Wife is your cup of tea. I had to pleasure to chat with the author, historical fiction writer Brandy Purdy. This is our interview: read on and enjoy! A copy of the book is still up for grabs: click HERE to enter the giveaway.
Welcome to Mina’s Bookshelf, Brandy! It’s a pleasure to have you on the blog and what an intriguing novel, The Ripper’s Wife! You also write under the pen name of Emily Purdy. Any significant difference in voice, style, genre between the two authorships?
Thank you for having me here, Mina. The Brandy Purdy/Emily Purdy books are exactly the same in content. Only the publishers, titles, cover art, and my first name are different, the story between the covers is the same in US and the UK. My British publisher felt the name Brandy was too low class and insisted on changing it to Emily. I had no say in the matter and I apologize for any confusion it has caused to readers over the years. Anyone who wants to make sure before they purchase that they aren’t accidentally buying a book they already have can check my website, www.brandypurdy.com, where I show the various editions.
You came to the release of your latest period novel, The Ripper’s Wife, after several books devoted to one particular historical setting: sixteenth century England. What inspired you to temporarily abandon the intrigues of the Tudor court and leap forward in time to a 1880s London?
To be honest, it was never my personal inclination to stick to a particular setting, I’m a person with many historical interests who loves variety, but my publisher wanted me to do a series of Tudor historicals and since the stories and characters were so interesting and I enjoyed the challenge of finding fresh and different ways to tell them I was happy to oblige. But I’m also very glad to have a change and the chance to show I can do something else.
Can you share with us a few highlights about The Ripper’s Wife characters and plot?
It’s about a beautiful, blonde naïve teenager who lives for pretty dresses and parties; think Clueless in Victorian garb and you get an idea of Florie’s character. After a whirlwind shipboard romance she marries James Maybrick, the man of her dreams, despite the age difference, he’s approaching 50 and she’s 18. She thinks he’s going to be her entrée into British society and that they are going to lead this wonderful, charmed life together. But then truth slaps her in face. Her husband’s social set, The Currant Jelly Set, look down on her as an American, she’s treated like a little girl playing house in her own household, no one takes her seriously, and she doesn’t have the backbone to stand up for herself and make them, her husband’s ex-fiancée is a constant and very intrusive presence, and when the children come there’s this horrible nanny that she doesn’t even have the power to fire. If that’s not bad enough, Florie discovers that her husband is a hypochondriac who takes all kinds of medicines, he has an emotional dependency on arsenic, he thinks it makes him strong (it was the Victorian Viagra and men often took tonics with small doses of arsenic in them to enhance their sexual potency), and he also has a commonlaw wife, several illegitimate children, and a hair trigger temper that she increasingly becomes the target of. It’s a life the etiquette books and finishing schools of the day have not prepared her for. She tries to console herself with compulsive shopping and by having an affair, but little does she know all her mistakes are going to come back to haunt her and that her affair will be the catalyst that takes her husband over the edge into true madness and murder—he becomes Jack the Ripper. And when she discovers the truth in his diary it changes her life in ways she never imagined.
Why did you decide to make of Florence Chandler (wife of the alleged serial killer who terrorized Whitechapel in 1888) the focus of the novel?
I was inspired by the actual Ripper Diary that claims to be James Maybrick’s confession, and I thought it would be an interesting and different way to tell the story if I made his wife the narrator. What if Jack the Ripper really did have a wife and she found out that the man she fell in love with and married was this brutal killer she was reading about everyday in the newspapers? What would she do? How would she feel? And what if he died under mysterious circumstances and she was blamed? Which, whether or not James Maybrick was Jack the Ripper or not, is actually what happened--Florence Maybrick stood trial for her husband’s murder.
How did you manage to balance historical accuracy, verisimilitude, and sheer imagination in The Ripper’s Wife?
I didn’t really consciously try, so much of the story is open to conjecture and debate, I took the Ripper Diary and the story it tells, the Ripper murders, and the Maybricks lives as the basis for my novel and went from there. The basic details, the framework, is historically accurate, but nobody knows what happened and what was said behind closed doors. I did sometimes, for creative and other reasons, make changes regarding time and chronology and eliminated or condensed certain characters and events.
Considering the violent and extremely cruel nature of the Ripper’s murders, how hard was it for you to describe certain scenes with realism and graphic details?
I think it was more difficult emotionally. I’ve been interested in the Ripper murders since 1988, so in a way I’ve grown up with them, and I was raised on horror movies, I had a mother who never watched or read anything but horror and never bothered to keep these things from me. The first three movies I saw were Stephen King’s Carrie, Picnic at Hanging Rock, and Jaws, and they’ve had a lingering effect--I’m still fascinated by the paranormal, unsolved mysteries and mysterious disappearances, and sharks. But I’ve always been a person who sees beyond the blood and gore. I never forget that murder victims are not just bodies or names printed on paper, they’re also people, who once had thoughts, feelings, and dreams, that their lives were taken from them, and I’ve also always been curious about what turns a human being into a monster. And in writing this novel it was important to me to show all of the Ripper victims as real women, to tell sometimes of their lives, and show how they ended up walking the streets of Whitechapel. It was also a dark and challenging experience getting inside the killer’s head, grappling with his rage and delusions, and trying to make it real so that readers would feel they were right there with him. It’s so at odds and far from my own personality it was definitely challenge writing from the Ripper’s perspective.
Is there any other unresolved historical mystery you would like to investigate and fictionalize?
At the moment I’m working on a novel about Lizzie Borden and also, as my time permits, my first non-fiction book, a biography of silent film actor Robert “Bobby” Harron, who died under mysterious circumstances in 1920. He actually makes a brief cameo appearance in The Ripper’s Wife so I don’t want to say more and spoil the story for anyone.
We hop on a time machine, pedal to the metal. Past or future? Where do we go and why.
Past—the clothes were better, and I think my short, curvy figure conforms better to past ideas of female beauty, so I might have a better chance of finding love there, and it would be interesting to actually meet some of the people I’ve written or am writing or considering writing about. And who knows what ideas I might get? My mind is always open to new inspirations.
Click HERE for more details about the book and the giveaway. Thank you for reading!